The 2016 Gold Medal was presented to the three ARM directors, Stephen Ashton, Howard Raggatt and Ian McDougall, in recognition of projects including Perth Arena, Wanangkura Stadium and Storey Hall at RMIT University.
The firm often employs bold colours and forms in its projects, which tend to divide opinion.
But the jury – led by the institute's national president, architect Jon Clements, and also including past president David Karotkin, Lyons co-founder Carey Lyon, and architects Alice Hampson and Annabel Lahz – described the trio as "highly talented individuals".
"This is a practice that has been a genuine leader, influencer, provocateur, culture builder and disseminator of ideas for nearly three decades," they said.
"For some, their work is controversial and contentious, but for Ashton, Raggatt and McDougall this moniker is a badge of honour," they added. "For them, architecture itself is contentious and speculative, to be debated, laid open and ultimately affirmed as a cultural contribution."
ARM has been in business since 1988, with offices in both Melbourne and Perth. Billed as "culture builders", their portfolio also includes the refurbishment of Melbourne's Hamer Hall and a decade-long reconfiguration of the Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance.
"We've always been interested in architecture that tells stories about our lives, about our cities," said McDougall. "It is humbling to have our ideas acknowledged in this way."
The Gold Medal is awarded by the Australian Institute of Architects in recognition of a significant contribution to national architecture. Previous recipients include Jørn Utzon, Glenn Murcutt and Peter Wilson.
Last year's winner was "lyrical technologist" Peter Stutchbury, whose projects include the seaside Bay House near Sydney and the Invisible House in the Blue Mountains.
The medal was presented in a ceremony today at the Adelaide Oval, following the first day of the National Architecture Conference.
It is only the second time the accolade has been presented to a trio in its 56-year history.